There are only two real certainties in European politics today: Eastern Europe has been effectively liberated from Soviet domination, and the reunification of Germany is approaching. For all their historic worth, these certainties, in turn, create new uncertainties-after all, the postwar system of European stability, of deterrence and détente, was based on the permanence of the Soviet threat and of the division of Europe and of Germany. Now that history has turned the tables, it is the hitherto unquestioned structures of European order that are entering a period of unpredictability: in the East, all structures-from the Warsaw Pact to Comecon-set up to camouflage Soviet centralized control; in the West, the NATO alliance and the European Community (EC); in Europe as a whole the familiar ways in which East-West relations are conducted. Germany is at the center of all these uncertainties, not only geographically but politically.

This article will examine the de-Sovietization of Eastern Europe and coming reunification of Germany, and the implications of a single Germany for the cooperative structures of the West-NATO and the EC. The final part will sketch stages and considerations that should facilitate the passage to a reunified German state in a changing Europe.


Europe's two new certainties are interdependent: had Eastern Europe not succeeded in slipping away from Soviet control, there would be no chance for the reunification of Germany.

The most significant geopolitical development of the late 1980s was a reformulation of Soviet security interests. Europe, and Germany, have been divided for the past four decades because of Soviet insistence that the security of the U.S.S.R. called not only for the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union but also for ideological integrity in a communist system of states. Thus the Soviet Union maintained massive military forces not just to deter and defeat a military aggressor but also to quash any ideological rebellion. The presence of communist regimes in Eastern Europe was a vital security interest for the Soviet Union. It was precisely this combination that constituted the European security problem over the past four decades.

For whatever reason-exhaustion through imperial overstretch, economic pressures, military reorientation or shifting domestic priorities-the Soviet Union cut the link between national security and ideological conformity in the late 1980s. Suddenly the communist regimes in Eastern Europe (and elsewhere) discovered that they were on their own-and their subjects discovered it, too. The anticommunist revolution that followed all over Eastern Europe would have happened eventually even without this shift in Soviet strategy. But it would not have happened so soon.

That it did happen released East European political systems from communist control and East European countries from Soviet control. It has thereby reduced considerably the traditional Soviet military threat to the rest of Europe. The Soviet Union will remain a military superpower, due to the sheer size of its military-industrial base, its resources and its manpower. But its security requirements have been narrowed so significantly as to allow what few would have believed possible only a short while ago: the massive reduction or even total removal of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe.

The release of East European countries from Soviet control has allowed them to gravitate toward the democratic and economically successful West. Today the trend all over Eastern Europe is westward. To claim, as some did in the past, that West Germany was "drifting eastward" was always to ignore the direction of the most powerful currents below the surface of European politics. Today those currents have come to the surface and they are clearly moving from East to West.

Might this trend be reversed? That is difficult to imagine, for two reasons. First, the shift in Soviet policy has been imposed by objective factors related to the failures of the Soviet system; it is not simply a policy reorientation that can be rescinded at will. If Mikhail Gorbachev and his inner circle should be replaced, his successors, whoever they might be, would have to respect these same objective factors.

Second, even if this or another Soviet leadership wanted to reverse policy, reinstall the link between security and ideology, and seek to invest ideologically conformist regimes in Eastern Europe, it would simply not work. If attempted by force, this would cause massive uprisings throughout the former Soviet security glacis that might escalate into major East-West conflict. If tried through other types of pressure and influence, a proposed return to communist regimes would have to gain the support of the people and their representatives-which it could not. The era of Soviet control over Eastern Europe has, for all practical purposes, ended, and Soviet influence over European politics in general is now much diminished.

Hence the process toward the reunification of the German states, too, is irreversible. The results of the first free elections in the German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.), held on March 18, are unlikely to lead to a consolidation of a separately functioning East German state; the new government's only unequivocal mandate is, on the contrary, to negotiate rapidly with the West German authorities the unification of Germany as a whole. There is no doubt about the outcome: German reunification will take place. The question today is not whether but when, and under what domestic and international circumstances.


For a brief period after the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, it seemed as if the East Germans were less keen on a German merger than on merely obtaining freedom of travel, free speech and free elections. Indeed, the early spokesmen of the newly formed opposition groups all initially emphasized the separateness of the East German state, which would remain, they hoped, devoted to some kind of "third way" between market capitalism and centralized socialism.

That phase has long passed. The call for unity has become ever louder in East German demonstrations. And as East Germany's new and old parties prepared for the March elections, they all adjusted their positions accordingly-even the old communist Socialist Unity Party, now renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism. The new, freely elected G.D.R. Chamber of Deputies, dominated by centrist and conservative groups which have been pressing hard for quick reunification, will call for the rapid merger with the Germany of the West.

The reason for this is both economic and political. For the foreseeable future, and even with the influx of massive West German (and, it is to be hoped, other Western) funds to modernize the East German economy, living standards in the German Democratic Republic will lag far behind those in the Federal Republic. Not only can the East Germans of today observe the life-style of their Western compatriots via West German television (which they have been receiving for many years), but they can freely experience it first-hand in frequent visits across the border. Even if economic reforms should be implemented rapidly in the G.D.R., they will take more time to produce results than people's patience may tolerate, particularly since reconstruction would have to be accompanied, initially at least, by austerity, price increases and growing unemployment. Thus the exodus from East Germany to the West will continue (it reached 350,000 last year and the rate is significantly higher in 1990). While it is true that this flow will not dry up even when a formal merger of the German states is concluded, such a merger is increasingly seen by many in both Germanys as the only move that can stem the tide, by providing a degree of much-needed confidence to the people who have not yet left the East.

The political reason for reunification is no less pressing. The G.D.R. has experienced-and even after the elections there has been no drastic change in this respect-a rapid crumbling of social and political authority. The revolution pulled the carpet of legitimacy from under the East German leadership, the economic apparatus, the army and police, and the whole juridical system. While it is true that the election provided some measure of democratic legitimacy to the new government, the void of credible authority will only gradually be filled. Merging with West Germany is the last lifeline for many in East Germany.

In November 1989, when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced a ten-point plan to deal with events unfolding in the East, a confederation between East and West Germany-which would have created a special relationship between two legally separate states, reunited not de jure but de facto-still seemed not only the preferred but also the most realistic option. A few months later confederation no longer provides a model even for the medium term. At best it can serve as the formula for a progressively shortened transition phase toward the full merger of the two German states.

The political timetable is accelerating under the impact of events. De facto reunification, for example, the "contractual community" first mentioned by the G.D.R.'s transition prime minister, Hans Modrow, and taken up by Chancellor Kohl, can no longer be formulated in an open-ended manner; it will have to contain a near-term date for de jure reunification as well.

The reunification of what was divided for over forty years will not be a smooth operation. Domestically, it will cause resentment in the eastern half of the country, which for a long time to come will remain the poorhouse of Germany, fearful of exploitation by its enterprising, capitalist cousin to the west. The continuing influx of East Germans into the Federal Republic, together with the financial burden implied by any major aid program needed for the G.D.R., will also breed resentment in West Germany, where social disruption is already widely feared despite predictions of massive economic dividends to result from reunification in the longer run.

Societies that for forty years lived largely separate existences will not adjust easily to the new relationship; in contrast to those East Germans who projected their hopes for so long on a rescue by Bonn, West Germans, particularly the younger generations, increasingly found their identification at home, not in a larger Germany that they had little hope or aspiration of experiencing. Thus reunification will tax the political system of the Federal Republic and shake up the balance of political parties in Bonn, creating new majorities and coalitions. Just as with the alleviation of economic discrepancies, this political adjustment will take time and bring setbacks and frustrations.

The precise stages of reunification are still uncertain. It could be an outright merger as envisaged in Article 23 of West Germany's Basic Law; in this scenario the newly elected representatives of the G.D.R. or those of individual states within the G.D.R. would simply apply for membership in the Federal Republic. It could also be a more complicated arrangement, with both German states working out a largely new constitution. But expediency and the very nature of West Germany's Basic Law would suggest the former approach.

There is also the question of how soon constitutional procedures in each of the two states would cease to apply. For a while, when it seemed that the process was accelerating every day, West German politicians were speculating that the West German federal elections scheduled to take place in early December 1990 would become de facto elections for a new all-German parliament. In the meantime, the amount of legislation required to bring East Germany's social system and economy into line with those of West Germany has come to be recognized, and there is consensus now that the period of transition will be rather longer than once expected. Thus it seems likely that West Germans alone will vote in the December elections-and that the government that results will bear the prime responsibility for the accomplishment of reunification.

The outcome has to be a matter of speculation. There were those who believed that the major opposition party in the West German Bundestag, the Social Democrats, would receive a major boost if its fellow party in East Germany were to emerge as the most powerful political group in the G.D.R. elections. As it turned out the SPD in East Germany received a much lower percentage of the vote than it ever had in West Germany.

But for other reasons as well, an SPD victory in West German elections remains unlikely. The present Bonn coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats can point to an impressive economic record: West Germany has been experiencing an extraordinary period of economic growth and prosperity that shows no sign of abating. Moreover, the challenge from the new populist right-wing party, the Republicans, which for a time seemed capable of splitting the right-of-center vote, is fading under the emotional impact of national reunification. Most important, perhaps, the West German electorate is likely to prefer the experienced if often lackluster team of Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, rather than opt for the Social Democrats, who are still wobbly on both economic and foreign policy. In times of national urgency and a booming economy, the bonus for the sitting majority should be considerable.

What happens in Germany is inevitably more than just a national matter. To address the international consequences, a number of meetings are already scheduled to take place. These include, in the first stage, the "two plus four" procedure, in which representatives of the two German states and those of the four World War II allies (the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Britain) discuss the security status of Germany, the cancellation of the remnants of Germany's now obsolete postwar legal regime, the special rights of the Four Powers, the status of the city of Berlin, and the finalization of Germany's external borders, particularly with Poland.

In a second stage, the European Community will have to define the modalities of permitting one of its member states to be enlarged. In the final stage, the 35 nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) will meet to register the changes in the center of Europe. In between these projected stages, numerous other consultations are certain to take place.

Yet this procedural schedule, however important, will not significantly interfere with the process of German reunification. The decisive question for the future will not be procedural but substantive: will the new Germany remain part of the Western system?

Clearly Germany will be more central than ever to European politics and, at the same time, more preoccupied with itself. It could also become less inclined to cooperate in the Western collective framework-NATO and the EC-that has been the chief innovation of postwar West European politics as well as the condition for West Germany's remarkable international acceptability. Yet how reunification will affect this framework will depend not only on the Germans themselves but on their friends and partners in the West.


There is nothing inherently incompatible between a larger, united Germany and the cohesion of the collective structures of the West. Take the Atlantic alliance. If, at the height of the Cold War, by a sudden miracle, reunification had been offered to the Germans in return for neutrality, they might have been seriously tempted (although it is worth remembering that when Stalin suggested such a deal in 1952 the Bonn government rejected it). In the meantime, the Federal Republic has had almost forty years of Western experience; it has become a Western political society. Now that the Cold War is over, why separate from the West? Nor would East Germans demand such a price. As Eastern Europe seeks to strengthen its links with the West, there would be no majority demanding that Germany, in contrast, should loosen its own.

Significantly, the Soviet Union has abstained from seriously demanding German neutrality as the price for unity. The Kremlin is probably more aware of the degree of German "Westernism" than many in the West, and neutrality in the middle of Europe can scarcely serve Soviet interests, since it would encourage some or all the other members of the Warsaw Pact to seek a similar status. Rather than trying to weaken NATO through a futile attempt to lure West Germany away, Gorbachev has instead sought to strengthen the Warsaw Pact by supporting NATO, as the visit of his foreign minister last December to the Brussels headquarters of the alliance amply demonstrated.

Through its support for the two alliance systems, the Soviet Union also intended to underpin the border line between them-a boundary that will continue to run through Germany as long as two legally separate German states exist. But what now as they unite?

On the surface, the answer to that question seems more complicated than it may turn out to be. Whatever the legal structure of reunification, the alliance membership of the Federal Republic need not be in question. However, a way would have to be found to assure both the West Germans and their allies that German membership in NATO will continue. The Soviet Union would also need assurance that its security interests in the center of Europe would be respected sufficiently.

Soviet security interests are not what they used to be. The Soviet Union seems to have accepted that it no longer can hold, and no longer needs to hold, a security glacis in Eastern Europe, and that the time for Soviet military forces stationed in Eastern Europe is fast running out. Rather, Soviet interests seem to be dictated by a new combination of domestic and institutional considerations.

On the domestic front, the interest of the Soviet leadership is not to lose face over the German issue. Many in the Soviet Union still fear the emergence of a "militaristic Germany." President Gorbachev thus needs assurances, including the continued stationing of Soviet forces on East German territory and a major reduction in German armed forces. Here the prospects for European arms reductions offer an avenue of hope. All over Europe, Germany included, military forces are being scaled down through a combination of formal negotiations and unilateral reductions. This will be accompanied by a negotiated regime of verification and confidence-building measures that might be enhanced further by new East-West institutions for conflict control and crisis management. Such a network of arms reductions and control, in which the Soviet Union would be a permanent member, would not be a bad bargain for Moscow, given the rapid disintegration of the Warsaw Pact.

The Soviet strategic interest, after all, is to have the Soviet Union accepted as a partner of equal status in the international system. Hence it also seems probable that, in the talks involving the Four Powers, the Soviet Union will not want to make the issue of Germany a divisive subject. Thus a host of arrangements appear possible for maintaining West Germany's security links with the West without provocation to the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Genscher seems to have convinced his NATO colleagues to consider a proposal under which, for a lengthy transition period, the former G.D.R. territory would not be part of the NATO area, even though a united Germany would be a member of NATO. NATO forces, including the Bundeswehr, would not be stationed in the territory of the former G.D.R., and Soviet forces would retain a droit de séjour there for some period. And NATO forces would remain in western German territory.

The details of this or similar arrangements are, of course, still unsettled and complicated. Some security forces would be needed in East Germany, and they would have to be subordinated to a body distinct from the West German Federal Ministry of Defense. Conscription for the Bundeswehr would not apply on East German territory-and, for young Germans, moving to the former G.D.R. could thus become a widely practiced way of avoiding the draft (as moving to West Berlin has been in the past). Clearly the separation of former G.D.R. territory from the defense regime established in the West will pose a considerable number of practical problems. Yet none of these would seem to defy practical solutions.

Continued German membership in the Western alliance would not seem to be jeopardized by a merger of the two German states. Of course, the end of the Cold War will weaken even so successful an alliance as NATO. But this is not a prospect created by the likelihood of German reunification alone. Indeed, German developments could well provide the traditionally conservative NATO establishment a useful catalyst for the definition of new functions, and possibly new structures, for the inevitable task of responding to all the momentous changes occurring in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


What about the other collective structure of the West in Europe, the European Community? Here, too, reunification is not incompatible with either formal German membership in the EC or the organization's continuing political cohesion.

For one thing, the G.D.R. has always been more a part of the EC than any other nonmember country. The German Protocol of the Treaty of Rome made the G.D.R. a sleeping partner in the EC from the start, with intra-German trade exempted from the EC's external tariffs. With the European internal market scheduled to open at the end of 1992, East German goods would in any case move freely all over EC territory. And the Soviet Union seems to have few objections to the incorporation of the East German economy into that of West Germany and Western Europe.

What reservations there are seem to come mostly from Germany's Western partners. While Jacques Delors, the president of the European Commission, is on record in favor of East Germany's membership in the EC-either as a separate entity or as part of a united Germany-some of the member governments are more reluctant to accept this. Much of this reluctance may come from the understandable instinct of politicians never to cross a bridge before they come to it. But there seems to be a deeper reason for West European apprehension: that the new Germany would simply be too big and powerful to make a reliable partner in West European integration.

This is, however, a strangely mechanistic argument. For one thing, West Germany alone is already the major economic and the dominant financial power in the EC. The inclusion of East Germany would add relatively little to this position. A reunited Germany would have a population of 76 million, as opposed to 60 million, and account for 31 percent of total European economic activity as opposed to 26 percent. Furthermore, East Germany will be a drain on West German resources for a long time before it becomes an asset.

Concerns over Germany's weight reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the EC system. The Brussels procedures, after all, limit the sovereignty of all member states, big and small. Even today Bonn cannot negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with East Berlin because the power to do so lies with the EC, not with the Federal Republic. The whole legal structure of the EC is based on a new quality of interstate relations that impose on its member countries, however powerful they may be, the need to compromise, to delegate a growing sector of national economic policies to a supranational body, and to be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. However many votes a united Germany would have in the EC's decision-making bodies, the voting is weighted today and will be weighted tomorrow in such a manner that any member state, whatever the size of its economy and population, could be overruled by a majority. And, as 1992 approaches, these safeguards will undoubtedly be extended further.

Yet these are but formal reassurances. What Germany's West European partners may be worried about (and what should concern the Germans themselves) is not a united Germany's continued formal adherence to the rules and regulations of the EC, but its continued political and emotional commitment to the political union of Western Europe.

The EC is at a crossroads: it can either evolve into an all-European trade and monetary arrangement, or into a politically much more cohesive union of West European states.

The first road would mean an EC that, in addition to its current 12 members, would incorporate not only the few advanced industrial countries of Western Europe still outside the Brussels framework but also, after a lengthy transition period, all of the democratic countries of Eastern Europe now trying to adopt market-type economies. Democracy and market economy would be the only conditions for membership; the EC's ambition would be limited to facilitating economic intercourse within the organization, and protecting the economic interests of its combined members without.

The other road, to political union, would mean a primarily West European EC, whose members contribute to a common European stance toward matters on the continent and beyond; the EC would not be just an economic actor, but a political one as well, conscious of both its weight and the responsibility that comes with it. While nobody can say what the ultimate institutional structure of this European political union would be, it would include in some form most of the traditional responsibilities of a nation state, with responsibility for external security and stability being among the most important.

In the past, the EC has reconciled these objectives by refusing to accept the contradictions between them. The difference between members unwilling to support political unification and those actively seeking it was bridged by the argument that integration was required for economic reasons, and that more economic integration would somehow demand, and thus lead to, more political integration as well.

Yet this convenient device is becoming increasingly questionable as a result of the events in central and Eastern Europe. Now alternatives are emerging and proving incompatible: if the EC wants to incorporate all of Europe, then its political cohesion will be in flux for a long time to come; if it wants to become a cohesive, political actor, then membership will have to be restricted and integration brought forward.

Germany would not be the only EC member state that would prefer to delay the choice. Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been the most outspoken against political union; yet even the outwardly pro-European French administration under François Mitterrand has preferred to hold onto national sovereignty in all but the economic and monetary realm. West Germany, while originally strongly favoring Western Europe's political federation, has become more and more indifferent to the idea. Still, there has been no major European initiative that ultimately could not count on support and even funding from Bonn. And in the rest of Western Europe there has been enough acceptance of gradual, if unstructured, progress toward political integration-and enough willingness to tie West Germany firmly into the EC-to overrule the more principled opponents of political union.

The impending reunification of Germany could stop, even reverse, this trend for two reasons. The Germans themselves, preoccupied with their newly achieved unity and proud of their status, could be opposed to tightening existing EC ties further, while at the same time not wanting to opt out. And Germany's partners might wonder whether any EC ties would be strong enough to bind a new, assertive Germany; instead, the other members might prefer to retain their own traditional freedom of maneuver.

This would imply a choice against political union. And without a conscious decision for greater political integration, the state of economic integration achieved so far would be undermined; there could even be a renationalization of European politics within the EC. As the restrictions that have so far blocked a truly internal market throughout the EC are being removed, and as competition increases, so those losing out in the process will turn for help to their national governments, not to the distant European Commission in Brussels or the politically toothless parliament in Strasbourg.

To political distrust vis-à-vis Germany would be added resentment against the strongest economy within the EC. The French idea of compensating for this by pushing Europe's economic and monetary union is perhaps logical, but it is also impractical and it will take a very long time to come about. What is needed now is instead a clear political commitment, signaling that the EC still has the courage of its original convictions.

It is difficult to think of a more impressive signal than a show of readiness-at least by a European nucleus of which France and Germany would be a part-to merge, progressively, military planning and security policies. Experience suggests that the practical and political difficulties in such an undertaking must not be underestimated, but there will be a chance to make security policy the next "floor" in construction of the EC "house." Military integration need not alarm Soviet security planners since it would represent not a buildup but a concerted reduction of military strength. Military forces in the emerging conditions of European security would not be directed against any assumed enemy but would stand for a minimum of touts azimuts reinsurance-and in the longer run for a transformation of NATO into a pact between the United States of America and a cohesive European unit which could provide for a healthy transatlantic relationship.

A stable future for Europe and Germany surely requires a strong, cohesive EC. Thus the most important question that the prospect of German reunification has brought to the fore is this: Can Germany and the other chief members of the EC generate the will and the commitment for further political integration? It is a question that cannot be answered by the Germans alone. But it is likely that they will, for their part, reply in the negative if their partners should appear to want to use integration only to rein in the Germans, while seeking to retain flexibility for themselves.


German reunification, as argued above, is no longer a question of whether, but of when and how. If there is an international consensus on the matter, it is that the merger of the two German states should occur in a controlled manner; it is "wild reunification" that Russians and Americans, East and West Europeans, and even many, if not most, in East and West Germany are worried about: a ground swell of East German popular demand so desperate and so powerful that it would sweep aside all the dams and breakwaters that governments had so carefully set up as part of the postwar status quo.

At the same time, while it is probable that reunification will occur soon, its timing is by no means certain. The practical and legal problems of East Germany's application for membership in the Federal Republic are becoming more obvious as the first emotional waves recede. There is a growing reluctance of West Germans to be pushed into a precipitous marriage by ardent East German popular demand. A tacit coalition is emerging to try to slow down the march of events.

Perhaps it will work; if so, so much the better: the gradual integration of both states into a new Germany is clearly preferable to frantic fusion. Yet even if it may still be possible to guide events in this way, the influence of outside powers is limited, calling for extremely tactful application in order not to backfire. Any delays will work only if they are clearly seen, by Germans East and West, as preludes to reunification.

The events of recent months have demonstrated just how limited has become the influence of outside powers on the evolution of German reunification. West Germany's NATO allies as well as the Soviet Union have made repeated attempts to chart a course for the unfolding events: at the Soviet-American Malta summit of December 1989, at repeated top meetings of the EC, in bilateral talks and-at the instigation of the Soviet Union-at a specially convened meeting in Berlin of the Four Powers' Allied Control Council and, more recently, at the Ottawa East-West Conference in February 1990. If none of this has had much effect, it is due not only to the force of popular upheaval in East Germany but also to the decline in the leverage of outside powers (which has also affected whatever legal rights they have reserved for themselves in postwar and pre-reunification Germany).

With the demilitarization of international politics following the fundamental change in Soviet security policy, the influence of major military powers has been reduced accordingly-that of the United States in the affairs of the West, that of the Soviet Union in the East-and types of national power other than military have come to the fore. With the de-Sovietization of Eastern Europe, Russian physical control over those lands has ceased. It was the West German need for military security and the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe that underpinned the legal prerogatives of the Four Powers in Germany. The security need has not yet disappeared but it has declined, and Soviet political control has been reduced to a military presence that is increasingly isolated by the pressure for removing Soviet forces in the rest of Eastern Europe. In short, the status of West Germany as the major economic power in Europe has been enhanced, while that of the Four Powers has become much more circumscribed. That is why, even if they wanted to have it otherwise, neither the Soviet Union, nor the United States, Britain or France could block reunification against German will. All they could hope to do, by acting together, would be to define the modalities of reunification.

Even that would be a highly sensitive operation. If it appeared to be a delaying tactic, reunification would happen against the will of the outside powers and, most important, against that of the West. German public opinion would simply demand it. It could thus produce what forty years of Soviet policy had failed to achieve: the distancing of West Germany (and with it a reunified Germany) from the Western club of nations; a failure of four generations of Western-and West German-policy.

There cannot, therefore, be a successful Western policy on reunification without German agreement. Such a policy must, first, genuinely share the objective of reunification and, second, build on the prevailing consensus (which includes Bonn) to assure that the passage to reunification is negotiated under conditions of stability.

While this is a considerable challenge, it is nevertheless important to recognize that it is less daunting than at any time in Europe's postwar history. Several conditions are required for a stable transition, and they are much more likely to be met today than in earlier periods.

-For reunification to be reconciled with the requirements of East and West, Soviet interests will be the most difficult to satisfy. But due to the fundamental change in the definition of the security of the U.S.S.R., the Soviets, as their reaction to East European developments in 1989 indicates, no longer regard Eastern Europe as a vital security glacis. While they continue to profess concern over a future "militaristic Germany," they no longer seek to prevent it by physical control of the Eastern part of the country, but instead by international cooperation.

-Reunification, in whatever form it takes place, coincides with an unprecedentedly harmonious period of East-West détente. Arms control negotiations are moving with a speed that would have seemed impossible only a few months ago, and even unilateral arms cuts have become respectable. As a result, Western concerns over Soviet military power, and Eastern concerns over German military potential, now have a real chance to be met, as the ceiling of military forces all over Europe is progressively being lowered. East-West détente is also unprecedented in the closeness of consultations over the German Question between those parties that, at the height of the Cold War, were uncompromising antagonists.

-A reunified Germany will find itself not an independent actor, a "loose cannon," but tied into the cooperative structures of the West. West German armed forces will remain assigned to, and the stationing of U.S. forces in Europe will continue to be legitimized by, NATO; West German economic power will remain integrated into the EC. When Germany was originally divided, none of these structures existed; now that it is reuniting, they assist in providing a stable environment for the process.

-As reunification occurs, there is no need to create an all-European framework for accommodating the interests of all those concerned, for one already exists: the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Since its beginning in 1975, that quasi-permanent forum has included as full members practically all European states, allied or nonaligned, as well as the Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Originally set up to make the division of Europe (and Germany) more tolerable through more human contacts, more economic exchange, respect for human rights and confidence-building measures, it now faces the task of carrying the strains connected with the reunification of Europe (and Germany). The CSCE could serve as an ersatz peace conference and eventually become a permanent network for conflict management, consultation and negotiation on continental European issues. While few would have thought, back in 1975, that the Helsinki conference would succeed even in its more modest original ambition, none would have predicted that it now might serve a much more ambitious one.

So, in a remarkable way, institutions and structures designed in an earlier, very different phase of postwar European politics are available now as elements of stability for the new period of European normalization. NATO and the EC, the Vienna arms control negotiations and the CSCE process-if these were not in existence today to accompany German reunification, there would be real cause for anxiety.

This does not mean, of course, that the passage will be smooth and without risks. All the above-mentioned institutions are in a state of incompletion, of promise more than of certainty. NATO will have to move from the calculable conditions of a defined threat to much vaguer contingencies. The EC will have to move decisively toward stronger political unity at a time when both a desire for involving the new democracies of Eastern Europe and an uneasiness about a powerful Germany provide arguments to those who would prefer a looser EC. The Vienna arms control negotiations must now be conducted against the background of a collapsing Warsaw Pact and major pressures for unilateral arms cuts in East and West. The CSCE as a traditional international conference can function only if all its 35 member states agree; Malta has the same weight as the Soviet Union or the United States. Thus, structuring the peace of the post-Cold War era is no less a challenge than was "winning the peace" after World War II. But it does mean that there is no need to start from scratch.

The one major difference from winning the peace in 1945 (when Germany was defeated) or 1948 (when Europe was divided) and doing so in 1990 (when that division is being overcome) is, of course, the role of Germany itself. Germany had a pivotal role to play every time, but in the past it was as an object of policy that depended on the ideas, initiatives and commitments of others. Now Germany holds a pivotal role as a generator of policy. The ideas, initiatives and commitments to shape a stable European future will now largely have to come from the Germans themselves-not only because of their weight in Europe's politics and economy, but also because, with the notable and welcome exception of the United States, Germany's main partners in the West have largely retreated into attentive (France) or irritated (Britain) passivity. German politicians must thus display an immense degree of statesmanship, not only in order to manage the domestic process of reunification, but to pave the way for the international one as well.

This is a tall order for any country. Germany must accommodate the concern of those worried about the German past as well as that of those troubled by its new power; it must reassure Soviet security interests without arousing suspicions in the West; it must strengthen its Western ties through participation in the reform of NATO and through promotion of political union in Western Europe. In short, Germany has to use its weight and power wisely, considerately as well as confidently.

Whether Germany can shoulder this extraordinary responsibility is the central question raised by reunification. Its inability to do so in the past created the German Question in European history. It is by no means assured that, this time, the challenge will be met; after all, West Germany's political culture is still very young and, at times, immature. The process of reunification can give rise to all sorts of popular emotions in a country that has not always been successful in separating politics from emotions. That German overconfidence can still generate insensitivity for the concerns of Germany's neighbors was sadly demonstrated at the beginning of March, when Chancellor Kohl tried to withhold full recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's legitimate western border for the sake of extracting concessions from Warsaw-for example, a pledge that Poland would not seek World War II reparations payments from a united Germany.

That Germany might fail to meet the challenge of statesmanship is the most serious worry that the process of reunification should cause to Germans and their neighbors alike. And yet, the chances for German good sense and statesmanship are probably better today than ever before. Germany's western part, which will remain dominant in a united Germany, has successfully developed into a stable democracy. Its citizens have become, during the past forty years, members of the Western club. The international constellation is propitious. And, by and large, West German politicians, while often falling short of statesmanship, have managed to avoid major blunders since the Berlin Wall came down. Why should they not be able to continue to do so, particularly if Germany's partners in the West do not forsake them at this time of extraordinary challenge and opportunity?

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  • Christoph Bertram is Diplomatic Correspondent of the German weekly Die Zeit. From 1974 to 1982 he was Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
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